In a traumatizing year, this South Memphis trauma support program is in jeopardy

Since 2015, Knowledge Quest has provided programming that helps families overcome trauma and stress and learn to head off potential childhood traumas. That programming is now in jeopardy, despite its unprecedented importance in the last year. 

Based in South Memphis, the nonprofit has focused on youth development and family support since the late 1990s. Six years ago, they were among five organizations that adopted Universal Parenting Place or UPP programming in partnership with ACE Awareness Foundation. 

UPPs provide classes, counseling, and activities to address the traumas and mental health issues that often grow from Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs. ACEs are situations where kids lack safe, stable, nurturing relationships or environments. Abuse, mental illness, and the loss of a parent to incarceration are traditional examples, but newer definitions include things like generational poverty and systemic racism.

Related: "Memphis author, expert says definition of adverse childhood experiences falls short in urban areas"

“One of our goals is to remove the stigma around mental health support. Families have been open to share and seek to inspire others to be mindful of their own mental health,” said Marlon Foster, KQ’s founder and executive director.

In December 2020, Ace Awareness Foundation announced the loss of a major funder and the closure of both the foundation and UPPs. Two UPP providers—KQ and Christ Community Health Services—will remain open through the end of March.

Foster said the KQ team is working to keep some portions of the programming for the next six months. They’re currently seeking funding partners to continue the work long term.

“Preventive stress-based mental health services will always have a home in KQ. We believe those who have benefited will come alongside and help,” he said. “We invite people to donate and our corporate partners and philanthropic community in general to support.”

In early January, the ACE Awareness Foundation announced that two new donors are considering a plan to keep one UPP open beyond March, pending a request for qualifications process for a site operator.

“We are going to push through with this need,” said Foster. “This is a community issue. We provide high-quality, strength-based programming so that whoever you are in the city you can receive help from our services.”

Not Your Typical Therapy 
All of KQ's services are free, including its housing support and urban learning farm programs, and families do not have to live in South Memphis to participate. 

Its UPP programming includes activities and alternative therapies like family yoga and Zumba, Talking Tea with Moms, drumming circles, support groups where parents can address their stress in a safe space, and one-on-one sessions with credentialed therapists.

UPPs also address discipline, conflict, and bullying and refer families to other community resources.

In 2020, KQ conducted 437 counseling sessions and received 298 referrals for counseling, with 92% of the sessions geared towards parents.

More than 19,000 people participated in virtual activities and more than 184 people participated in virtual therapeutic groups.

Renée Wilson-Simmons is Ace Awareness Foundation's executive director. She said the pivot to virtual support has allowed more people to access UPP services and has helped parents feel safer attending. 

“Since the pandemic hit, I think there is significantly less stigma around [parents] saying, 'I need help.' You do not hesitate to say, ‘I’m stressed,’ or, ‘I need to talk to someone.’ Many horrible things have happened because of the pandemic, but this is one of the things I’m hoping will continue,” Wilson-Simmons said.

Since COVID, Wilson-Simmons said online programming has increased access to programming for families who would not have been able to attend a UPP in person.

The First and Last of The UPPs
Wilson-Simmons said investment in UPPs ranged because each site had different offerings, but at a minimum, AAF contributed $150-175K per site annually and funded alternative therapies.

Foster said Knowledge Quest and Baptist Memorial Hospital developed the first UPP pilot programs in Memphis.

“As we developed, we asked questions like, ‘How do we start with communities of trust?’ ‘Where are residents in our Memphis and Shelby County Community already gathering where trust is established?,'" Foster said.

Foster said KQ incorporated feedback from nine parents including KQ staff and KQ families from South Memphis and surrounding colleges to develop their UPPs.

Feedback from the group focused on broadening the reach of mental health issues in families and creating a safety net in Memphis of mental health professionals.

“We also sought to develop a space that could allow parents to be proactive (with mental health and seeking support) in a non-penal context, because once the law is involved it changes the way people receive and respond to services,” he said.

Wilson-Simmons said she hopes the families they’ve served will continue to find the help they need in the absence of Ace Awareness Foundation and the UPPs.

“Sometimes having help from someone other than a family member, someone who does not know you the way family and friends do can help you,” she said.


Families seeking services can learn more on the Knowledge Quest social media platforms, where some of the virtual activities are hosted. Facebook: @kqmemphis, Twitter: @ThisIsKQ and Instagram: @kquest_1998.

Join in These Monthly Virtual Sessions:
Zumba: 1st & 3rd Tuesdays at 1:00 p.m.
Yoga: 2nd & 4th Tuesdays at 1:00 p.m.
Food ‘N Mood Nutrition Workshops: 2nd & 4th Thursdays at 3:00 p.m.
Support Groups (multi-themed): 3rd Saturday at 1:00 p.m.
Individual Sessions with Credentialed Therapist: weekday and weekend; morning and evening options available
[This article is funded in part by ACE Awareness Foundation as part of a year-long series on adverse childhood experiences in Memphis, including the people and organizations offering innovative solutions to protect and heal the city's youth.]
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Read more articles by Erica Horton.

Born and raised in Memphis, Erica Horton is a freelance journalist that loves to learn and write about almost anything. Email her story ideas here